Disability Awareness: American Express Hosts Discussion with J.R. Martinez, Sophie Delezio and Bethany Hamilton


For 30 years,International Day of Persons with Disabilitieshas celebrated the rights and well-being of people with disabilities and mobilized support for equity.

American Express continues to drive awareness on this day and beyond through the theme of Recognize More: Proudly Backing Disability Inclusion. To mark the occasion this year, Team Amex held panel discussions for colleagues with J.R. Martinez, an Army veteran, actor, author, and burn survivor; Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer, author, and shark-attack survivor; and Sophie Delezio, an inspirational speaker, contributing columnist to Body+Soul magazine, and survivor of two serious traffic accidents. Each of these advocates talked about the challenges and triumphs of their disabilities.

We define people by their disability without recognizing their full scope of ability, said Martinez.

As a child of immigrant parents, he says it was always his dream to give back to his country by serving in the armed forces. At age 19, Martinez was wounded when his military vehicle hit a roadside bomb in April 2003 causing him to have 32 surgeries over 34 months.

Instead of viewing this life-changing experience as a hinderance, Martinez says it was the most liberating moment of his life, propelling him into the person he is today with new perspective and purpose. Whatever youre going through right now, it is a phase, and it is a moment. It is conditioning you for the next challenge, the next thing in life, says Martinez.

Hamiltons life-changing moment came as a 13-year-old in Hawaii. In a rare shark attack, she lost her left arm while surfing.I never thought it would happen to me, but it gave me a deep sense of gratitude for life, she says.

While re-learning many basic skills that can often be taken for granted, Hamilton says she leaned on her faith and family, but was terrified the attack would rob her of her passion: surfing. It did not.

One month after the attack, she returned to her board and a few months later returned to competition.

The first of two life-changing moments for Delezio came in December 2003, when a car crashed into her Australian daycare center. She survived losing both legs beneath her knee, one hand, her right ear, and suffered burns to more than 80% of her body. She was two years old. In May 2006, she was victim to another traffic-related crash when she was hit by a car while crossing the street, which resulted in a brain injury.

While she did feel left out at times growing up, Delezio credits her family for carefully curating a life that was just as warm, happy, and beautiful as anyones.

I grew up the way every other child grows up. My disability was a factor and that meant I just had to have more plans, said Delezio.

Carolyn Martin, Sophies mom and caregiver, also joined the conversation and says their community helped calm the shockwaves brought on by her daughters injuries and helped the family adjust to what she called a whole new world.

Seeking and asking for help is a key takeaway that I look back and go, that was one of the hardest things, said Martin. Learning how to say thank you and accepting help is how theyve successfully managed for nearly 20 years since the accident, she says.

Martinez, Hamilton and Delezio have shared their stories with millions worldwide, despite the difficulty and trauma they experienced. One of the biggest challenges theyve each faced is being seen beyond their disability.

Martinez said, We may be individuals who recognize we have disabilities on some level, but, at the end of the day, we are people, parents, spouses, entrepreneurs and if you pay attention to those things and move beyond disability, you realize that all weve done is diss the dis in disability and prove to the world that weve got nothing but ability.

Hamilton encourages others to master the art of kindness and when interacting with those living with a disability,she offers this advice in the acronym ARM: Accept that you dont need to know everything someone has been through. Resist the urge to stare. Master the art of kindness and move on with your day.

Trust the person who has the disability because they know their disability the best, and theres no textbook that can describe one persons needs. Just get up and ask. That simple, said Delezio.

In honor of this years International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which was observed on December 3, were also recognizing our colleagues with disabilities who are members of our Disability Awareness Colleague Network. Learn more about their unique journeys and how an inclusive workplace lets them show up with purpose by clickinghere.

Hong Kong – Turning disability into creativity

Turning disability into creativity


     With the support of the Social Welfare Department’s Arts Development Fund for Persons with Disabilities, artists with disabilities are able to explore their potential and develop careers in performing, visual or creative arts.

     News.gov.hk spoke to two non-governmental organisations to learn more about how the fund helps people with disabilities to unleash their creativity in ceramics and wheelchair dancing.
     The story is available at www.news.gov.hk/eng/feature today (October 31) in text and video format.

AEP Receives Top Score on Disability Equality Index, Named a Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion

American Electric Power (Nasdaq: AEP) received a score of 100 on Disability:IN’s Disability Equality Index (DEI) and was named a Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion. This is the sixth consecutive year the company was recognized for its commitment to disability inclusion and equality.

The DEI is a benchmarking tool that helps Fortune 1000 companies measure disability workplace inclusion against competitors. AEP’s score was based on its performance in multiple categories including culture and leadership; enterprise-wide access; employment practices (benefits, recruitment, employment, education, retention and advancement, accommodations); community engagement; and supplier diversity. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the DEI added new non-weighted questions about innovative technology to advance digital and remote accessibility; mental wellness benefits; services for Deaf and hard of hearing employees, and flexible work options. AEP was one of 319 companies that received a score of 80 or higher.

 “AEP is proud to receive a top score on the DEI and be recognized as a Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion for the sixth year in a row,” said Nicholas K. Akins, AEP’s chairman, president and chief executive officer. “This honor is a reflection of our ongoing efforts to create an inclusive work environment for all employees. We’ll continue to transform our company culture and examine our policies and benefits to ensure they empower our colleagues with disabilities.”

Learn more about AEP’s commitment to creating a more diverse and inclusive work culture.

American Electric Power, based in Columbus, Ohio, is focused on building a smarter energy infrastructure and delivering new technologies and custom energy solutions to our customers. AEP’s approximately 16,800 employees operate and maintain the nation’s largest electricity transmission system and more than 223,000 miles of distribution lines to efficiently deliver safe, reliable power to nearly 5.5 million regulated customers in 11 states. AEP also is one of the nation’s largest electricity producers with approximately 30,000 megawatts of diverse generating capacity, including more than 5,600 megawatts of renewable energy. AEP’s family of companies includes utilities AEP Ohio, AEP Texas, Appalachian Power (in Virginia and West Virginia), AEP Appalachian Power (in Tennessee), Indiana Michigan Power, Kentucky Power, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, and Southwestern Electric Power Company (in Arkansas, Louisiana, east Texas and the Texas Panhandle). AEP also owns AEP Energy, AEP Energy Partners, AEP OnSite Partners, and AEP Renewables, which provide innovative competitive energy solutions nationwide. For more information, visit aep.com.

EU Disability Strategy to improve the lives of people living with a rare disease

EURORDIS-Rare Diseases Europe welcomes the adoption by the European Commission of the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030 , as part of the European Union’s commitment to promoting, protecting and ensuring the full enjoyment of human rights by individuals with disabilities and complex needs.

This Strategy is of particular importance to people living with a rare disease and is extremely timely as the coronavirus pandemic continues to exacerbate vulnerabilities. 

Many people with rare diseases live with motor, sensorineural or intellectual impairments and face serious challenges in their activities of daily living, including personal care and other essential tasks. Obtaining an adequate disability assessment remains one of the main obstacles for 53% of people living with a rare disease, who face inadequate assessments (34%) or do not receive an assessment at all despite needing one (19%). This affects timely access to essential tailored support and services, aggravating the high level of psychological, social and economic vulnerability experienced by people living with a rare disease.

EURORDIS particularly welcomes the following priorities of the Strategy, which echo the decade-long plea of the rare disease community and reflect the key recommendations outlined in the EURORDIS’ position paper ‘Achieving Holistic Person-Centred Care to Leave No One Behind ’ (2019) as well as the Rare 2030 multi-stakeholder recommendations on the future of rare disease policy (2021):

  • More awareness and support strategies for patients with disabilities related to rare diseases;
  • Reforms of social protection focusing on persons with disabilities and disability assessment frameworks;
  • Improved labour market outcomes of persons with disabilities, including reasonable accommodation.

“The Strategy marks yet another milestone for 30 million people living with a rare disease in Europe, many of whom live with a disability, which can often be invisible, degenerative, or varies from one day to the next. The lack of recognition of their disability is a major barrier to their participation in society on an equal basis with others. We count on the European Commission to work with Member States to introduce a strong European framework that effectively protects and supports the rights of persons with rare diseases and disability. EURORDIS is ready to contribute to the implementation of the Strategy with concrete ideas and policy recommendations developed with its member community throughout the last few years,” – says Raquel Castro, EURORDIS Social Policy Director.

EURORDIS calls upon the Member States of the European Union to incorporate this Strategy into their national legislation to promote and protect the human rights of persons with disabilities and fulfil their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

More information:

  • Feedback from EURORDIS-Rare Diseases Europe on the Disability Rights Strategy for 2021-30
  • Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030
  • Strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities 2021-2030 (Factsheet)
  • The Post-2020 European disability strategy (Study by the European Parliament)